How a Prior Hardship Can Grant the Willpower Not to Give Up: A Lesson From Survivor
We seldom desire to credit hardship or suffering as a component that has shaped us into who we have become, but in my experience, it is what has led to much of my transformation. On television this past week, I saw how overcoming a former hardship helped foster the willpower to complete a challenging task.
Although I don’t spend much time watching television and rarely engage with reality tv, I have one exception: Survivor. This season—Season 40—twenty previous winners are competing against one another.
During last week’s episode, I unexpectedly had tears streaming down my face. While naturally an emotional person, anyone who has dealt with adversity is bound to be touched by the events that unfolded.
This season, if players are voted off, they aren’t sent home. Instead, they are sent to another island—Extinction—where challenges are given to them as they attempt to earn a way back into the game. One of my long-time favorite Survivors, Ethan, had just been sent to Extinction. The day after arriving, the survivors were presented with a monumental task.
Ethan’s Survival Story
Before we get to the challenge, if you don’t follow Survivor, then what you don’t know is that after winning Survivor, Ethan was diagnosed with rare cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Ethan’s battle was long and hard-fought. Initially, he completed three months of intensive chemotherapy, only to have his cancer immediately return. Then, after undergoing a stem-cell transplant, he remained in remission for nearly 20 months before it returned in 2011. After two rounds of stem cell transplants received from his brother, on The Jeff Probst Show in early March 2013, Ethan shared he was cancer-free.
Back on Extinction Island
“Today you each have a chance to earn a fire token, but it will require tremendous effort. At the top of the steps are four piles of firewood. You must bring down all twenty pieces from your pile and stack them next to your fire one piece at a time. You must complete your tasks by sundown to earn a token,” read Amber.
Setting off to the top of the mountain, the challenge had officially begun.
“The first trip up the hill was pretty good. So in my mind, I think, ‘oh twenty times, this isn’t going to be so bad. I mean, I’ve done marathons, I’ve played professional soccer, I’ve been through cancer, we have til sundown to do this? Yeah, piece of cake,'” stated Ethan.
The players continued to trek up and down, lugging one piece of firewood at a time.
“For me, self-doubt crept in around log ten. I wanted to be first…and then I scrapped that concept…and then I realized I just gotta get it done,” said Ethan.
Then a roadblock entered Ethan’s path.
“I think I went out a little too fast. I was trying to keep up with Natalie and Danni and I just wasn’t cut out for that type of endurance. And it got to a point where my depth perception got a little bit wonky. And so every time I tried to step up on a rock, I wouldn’t get up high enough. I started to get really really hot, and I kinda just passed out,” stated Ethan in this interview.
After Ethan collapsed, a medic came to evaluate him.
“Your blood pressure is low and if you are feeling faint, then it is likely that you will faint….that feeling won’t go away,” the medic informed Ethan.
“I was so disappointed in myself. I just wanted to complete this for myself. I’d already put in sixteen trips. I had four more trips to finish this thing. I just did not want to quit,” said Ethan.
“So I think if you really wanna carry on, you’ve really got to make sure you take those rests,” the medic shared with Ethan.
“I want to set a good example for everyone who’s been through a health challenge and thinks they can’t do it anymore, you can do it. You can get through those hard moments,” shared Ethan.
So he continued.
“And I just sucked it up. I kept saying to myself, ‘remember when you were getting spinal taps…when you were getting radiation… and I started saying the mantras I was using when I was getting chemotherapy to kind of get me through these hardest moments,” shared Ethan.
Ethan got back up, propelled by the reminder of all he had overcome to get to this point in his life. He summoned the willpower not to give up.
Ethan told himself, “it’s a tough challenge right now and I’m struggling to get through it. I’ve got to finish by sundown so I’m going as fast as I can. I’ll go until my legs collapse or the sun goes down. I may not finish but I’m not going to stop.”
“After seeing how much Ethan struggled and still picked himself up, it was inspiring, it was incredible and so on that last run for him, we were like, we all need to be a part of that,” shared Danni.
“They all went with me to finish the last leg, which was pretty touching. That was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Ethan.
Stories like this one inspire me, give me hope, and remind me that nothing is wasted. Ethan used his cancer experience to propel him through the near-impossible task set before him.
Is there currently a mountain in your life that you must overcome? Let this serve as your reminder that the trials of today will serve you as you deal with the adversity of tomorrow. Keep going, friends.